For better or worse, I was raised in the South; Georgia to be exact… I love my biscuits and gravy with a large helping of grits, and it is that Southern grit that first brought me overseas when I started my previous company, Incoqnito, and went to China alone to get my products prototyped and produced. The journey of finding factories and managing vendor relationships is a long process of hustling, fist-pounding, nail-biting, friendly drinking, karaoke-ing, and most of all, testing the limits of one’s adaptability. In addition to the language barrier, the work ethic, culture, and customs can be mind-boggling and maddening, even for someone like myself who is fluent in Mandarin.
I lived and worked in China for a year until I sold Incoqnito to Crave in 2010 and now return several times a year as I design and develop new products at Crave. Living and working in China can be difficult, especially when you’re an outsider. The air, the pace, the food, the customs… I remember an English friend of mine who was not used to eating “family style” all the time. One day he snapped “I just want a plate of my OWN food! Is that too much to ask?!?!”
For a lone female entrepreneur, the journey is as frustrating as it is rewarding. Running a sex toy startup as a woman automatically makes me an anomaly. Nevermind the sex toy part—just having started my own company, as a woman, is rare. Luckily, it’s not so rare that women can’t find success. According to Wealth-X, the U.S. has the highest number of self-made female billionaires, followed by China and Italy in a distant third. China’s work ethic promotes equality through earned merit, and unsurprisingly, there are many Chinese female entrepreneurs who are leading the charge.
Despite that, yes, I have met sexism and prejudice along the way—but in China, I learned that ultimately I am judged by my character, work ethic, and the business I create, so that initial judgement is only temporary. When I visit a factory for the first time, the people greeting me often ask, “When is the customer coming?” assuming that I am a translator. I smile and inform them that I am actually the customer and it is MY company. They are taken aback, but they generally get over it quickly. Ultimately, they care about making money: as long as you pay on time, they are happy to do business with you. In my years of visiting factories I never once encountered one whose owners turned me away because they were uncomfortable dealing with a woman. They have turned me away for legitimate reasons—as volume, a mismatch between my products and the factory capability, or an inability to meet my quality assurance standards—but not because of my sex.
Chinese business customs often include taking customers out for elaborate evening entertainment and/or debauchery that provide more opportunities for both misunderstanding and clarification between the vendors and me. I’ve lost count of how many times people mistakenly assumed I was an administrative assistant or sales rep—or a prostitute. For the former I correct them and laugh it off, and they often apologize profusely. For the latter, well, I’m usually not so kind. Here’s a tip: when dining, drinking, and singing is necessary, only accept the invitations of vendors you really want to work with. It is perfectly okay to politely decline an invitation if you are not interested in working with them. If you must go to these socials, bring a friend you trust. Chinese vendors will not find it rude and would be honored and delighted to have the additional company. That way you have someone who has your back should the “bai jiu”—China’s alcohol of choice—get out of hand.
I have been asked if it was scary being out there by myself. No, not at all. I have never felt unsafe in China. The closest I come to danger is crossing the streets. I joke, but it is true. (My tip for crossing the street is to just go: if you hesitate too much, you will never get to the other side. I know that seems counterintuitive and brash, but trust me—once you start moving forward, the traffic will go around you. Chinese drivers are actually vigilant about looking out for people, carts, scooters, and dogs to swerve around.)
When you’re manufacturing in China things will go wrong—not because it is China, but because manufacturing is hard. Hardware is HARD. I have worked with domestic factories who still screw up parts, even though we speak and write the same language. Good product documentation and over-communication are your friends. Constant check-ins with your factory are necessary, not rude. Especially with new factory relationships, you will need to micro-manage them until they prove to you they are competent. In my experience, Chinese vendors appreciate my attention to detail and respect me more as someone who is dependable and hardworking.
It is through this type of communication, day in and day out, and even in the middle of the night, that the people I work with come to respect my serious work ethic and we build rapport and trust. This careful relationship-building is how I convinced my first factory to produce my first small batch of products without any down payment.
China is not a scary place. It is many things, but scary is not one of them. If you are interested in doing business in China, just go. You will figure it out. Like entrepreneurship—and maneuvering through Chinese street traffic—it is a lot scarier to contemplate than to do. Once you try, you will be just fine.
Ti is an industrial designer / entrepreneur passionate about designing products for women. She is the co-founder and VP of Design of CRAVE, a San Francisco-based company specializing in discreet and luxury sex toys. Prior to Crave, Ti foundedINCOQNITO, a line of intimate accessories that double as fashionable jewelry which was acquired by CRAVE in 2011. Since then, Ti has continued to lead the concept and design for the company’s full line of products which has won numerous awards, including Red Dot, IDEA and Good Design. She is best known for the design of Vesper, a vibrator necklace, one of the most celebrated and innovative sex toys disrupting the adult toy industry and changing the conversation around sex. She has been featured in numerous publications including Fortune, Forbes,HuffPo, and New York Times and is a former POPTECH! Speaker. She co-chairs the Women in Design section of theIndustrial Designers Society of America, where she organizes events to support the community of women in industrial design. Ti holds a MA in Design Products from Royal College of Art in London and a BS in Industrial Design from Georgia Institute of Technology. Ti grew up in Atlanta, GA and now enjoys life and work in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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A few months ago a couple of friends tricked me into running with them. Tricked. It’s more of a jog, really, they said. Hucksters.
I am many things, but athletic is not one of them and the times I was forced to run in gym class were some of the darkest, most tortured, most terrible twenty minutes of my life. Zero exaggeration, like, seriously. But I took the bait from my friends. I ran. I lived. I even found that I liked it….enough. Let me be clear: I did not like feeling as if my heart were galloping alongside me; I did not like thinking about what I suspected I looked like galumphing along on the trail, slightly hunched over, red faced while my friends and others we passed careened effortlessly along like majestic Gazelles. Zero exaggeration, like, seriously. I liked that I did it. I liked that I had challenged myself, that I had pushed myself to do something I considered hard. I really liked the way I felt—strong.
I could do this once a week, I thought. I surprised myself a little, not just for the intention, but because I am a classic step-skipper. I would show up to basecamp on Everest and be all “We summit tomorrow, right? All good? I brought trail mix guys!”
Turns out there are some perks the more spins you get around this planet. Wisdom is one, if you’re lucky enough to absorb it. Self-awareness is another, if you are brave enough to receive it. I suspected there was more to this running thing than trying not to die while doing it.
That was five months ago. Since then, once a week, usually Friday, I head to the trails that weave their way through the miles of conservation land not far from my house. I go as early in the morning as I can when the air is still a little bit cool and the light is just starting to dapple the trees, which are now lush and green. I’ve only walked twenty or thirty feet from the small parking lot into the beginning of the trail, but it feels like crossing a threshold into another universe. Everything is hushed except for the curious calls of birds and the rustle of unseen critters.
I walk for a bit to warm up and then, I run. I listen to music, but I key into the rhythm of my breathing. It becomes its own kind of wordless mantra. When I hit an incline, I keep my eyes focused on the ground. I know if I lift them to the slope, I’ll want to stop. For me there is just the next little bit and the next little bit after that, a metaphor for life metered out with each dig of my heels.
I notice what happens is that every few minutes I will desperately want to stop. To override the running “kill” switch you’ve got to give your mind something else to chew on. But here’s what I’ve found most surprising: the stand-by churn, the stuff about work or relationships or that shamefaced thing I did when I was a stupid 19-year old (ok, stupid 34-year old, ok, last week) gets no traction. As quickly as they enter the frame they fall away; they’re too heavy, too sticky. Those things–the spin and whir and crank in the factory of real life– have no place in the beautiful, serene, Serengeti of time out of time you’ve created through your measured, reliable movement.
Zero exaggeration, like, seriously.
My mind really does just want to be here now, as Ram Dass writes. It is wildly liberating. It’s as if my mind were thrust into one of those Hazmat showers, the ones that sandblast your skin clean off and all you’re left with are smooth, shiny surfaces.
I think about my breathing.
I think about the woods.
I think about the light, the crunch of dirt and stone under my feet.
I think about how lucky I am that my lungs, my legs, my body does this thing.
And then before too long I’m walking again, heading out of the woods back into the world with all its noise and chaos and a little bit of silence tucked into my back pocket.
Delicious cakes (and other bakes) and stunning food photography from London-based Benjamina, a contestant on the seventh series of the BBC showThe Great British Bake Off.
This blog is ten years old today. So here are ten sets of ten somethings.
Just a picture of ten random books, which in no way should be thought of as a real list, okay?:
Ten great books I read in 2016:
Ten books I want to read soonish:
Ten reviews of books (perhaps underrated or under-remarked upon, at least–the books, I mean, not the reviews) by authors whose last names begin with B:
Ten books I aim to re-read sooner rather than later:
Thanks for reading/viewing/etc.
We Are the Mutants focuses on the history and analysis of Cold War-era popular and outsider culture, focusing on speculative, genre, pulp, proto-geek, cult, and occult media. Think post-apocalyptic fiction to space disco — and much more.
This summer, I took a four day intensive néhiyawéwin class. I’m learning my language, slowly. This class was the beginning of a commitment to push myself further towards this goal.
I live in Ottawa now, but I’m a prairie girl through and through. Going back home is a necessity in staying grounded and connected to what calms my soul. The language is in the land, in the vast prairie skies, the water. nipiy. my veins.
Don’t bother writing the words down. Just listen. You’ll remember.
péyak. níso. nisto.
I’m in kindergarten, my favourite class is Cree class. We learn numbers, greetings, animals. Those words come flooding back in my memory.
I’m grateful to the educators that provided us with the opportunity to be exposed to our language and culture.
Thirty years later, the class is full of eager students willing to learn néhiyawéwin. The instructors are passionate about passing on the language. It’s a beautiful and safe environment to learn and make mistakes.
Living thousands of kilometers away from my home, I have to make an effort to practice and hear the language, so I don’t forget again.
When discussing the struggles I’m having with this distance, one of my classmates told me that home is “the place where your spirit breathes”. He was right.